Hundreds of children asylum seekers, some as young as 8 months, have been rapidly expelled from the United States to overflowing Guatemalan shelters, citing COVID-19 risks.
Shelter operators are seeing a rising number of children being sent back to Guatemala with many of them unable to return home due to gang violence and abuse.
The Trump administration issued an emergency health order in March granting federal agents sweeping powers to almost immediately return anyone to the border, including children and infants, citing COVID concerns.
This ruling means that children are not being deported, which includes a court hearing, but rather expelled meaning there is no court ruling and are denied legal representation.
Guatemalan shelter conditions
Guatemala can house 115 unaccompanied children from the US and Mexico in shelters, but approximately 50 children per week are arriving from the United States, often stretching the shelter to capacity.
Leonel Dubon, director of a privately-run shelter in Guatemala, stated his shelter is filled to capacity with 40 returned children who cannot go home due to verified threats to their safety.
Many shelters try to safely reunify the expelled children back with their families but as stated by government officials, many of the children face discrimination in their communities due to fears they have been infected with coronavirus while in the United States.
Only around 10 per cent of children expelled from the United States come with certifications of coronavirus testing.
The Guatemalan government tests the remaining children and keeps them in a 10-day quarantine as they await results.
In many Guatemalan shelters, virus testing capacities are stretched to their limits.